Privacy rights group urges caution over increasing state surveillance in Africa
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Privacy rights group urges caution over increasing state surveillance in Africa

The African Digital Rights Network (ADRN) think-tank released a study Thursday on privacy protections in six African countries. They found that governments in Africa are abusing new technology and surveillance laws to violate citizens’ privacy rights.

The report is the first comparative analysis of African legal frameworks on surveillance covering Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Sudan. It represents a myriad of various geographical regions and language groups across the continent. It states that governments use ambiguous laws or ignore the law altogether to carry out illegal mass surveillance of citizens. Six specific factors were identified as the primary causes of privacy rights being violated.

1. Introduction of new laws that expand state surveillance powers.
2. Lack of legal precision and privacy safeguards in existing surveillance legislation.
3. Increased supply of new surveillance technologies that enable illegitimate surveillance.
4. State agencies regularly conducting surveillance outside of what is permitted in law.
5. Impunity for those committing illegitimate acts of surveillance.
6. Insufficient capacity in civil society to hold the state fully accountable in law.

These surveillance laws were then compared against principles established by globally accepted human rights frameworks such as the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance (‘International Principles’), the UN Draft Instrument on Government-led Surveillance and Privacy, and the African Commission’s Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. Personalities such as journalists, academics, lawyers, business rivals, opposition politicians, and activists are especially at risk of internet control, surveillance, and censorship.

The report recommends drafting a “single, dedicated surveillance law that supersedes previous legislation, reasserts privacy rights, and closely defines the legitimate aims of surveillance.” It also recommends incorporating the International Principles into surveillance laws, ending the supply of surveillance technologies to countries that violate privacy rights, generating public awareness through civil rights organizations, and enforcing legal penalties for illegitimate surveillance consistently.